I am out, just before dawn, to experience darkness, and on a whim, drove to the town cemetery – partially because of its scarcity of lights, and more than a little because, in my ski cap and black coat, I look a bit nefarious. Best not to be prowling around streets.
I have always been partial to walks at night. I find the darkness comforting, as if the barriers of visual distractions between the Lord and me have been stripped away. There’s an intimacy to prayer in the dark.
But the night can also bring uneasiness. Years ago, I took a group of inner-city kids on a nighttime walk while at a camp deep in the woods. When I turned off the flashlight, they were terrified, and all latched onto the belt loops on my pants. We had to inch like an amoeba down the road. I realized that they had never been in total darkness before.
It can be quite unsettling.
That’s the tone of the situation in Isaiah 50, where the hardship and insecurity of their day felt very much like an unlit road in a dark forest.
10 Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.
11 But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:10-11)
Not living in a small village in Transylvania, I don’t have a habit of lighting torches. However, I was in Williamsburg one December and witnessed an evening event that involved both stationary and hand-held firebrands.
Seeing the flames leap into the night sky is tremendously comforting.
So why does the Lord condemn it here? Because, it is a self-made comfort. In a time of insecurity and anxiety, when the present is dangerous and the future unknown, there are two options: wait on the Lord or take care of it yourself.
Sin, in its essence, is always a form of taking. Think of theft, greed, lust and murder: they are obvious examples of appropriating something that belongs to another. Here, the sin of lighting torches is taking from the Lord the right to provide the answer to our present darkness. It is not respecting (fearing) God’s right to choose for us the time and form of our relief.
In contrast to sin, obedience is always a form of giving. It is the essence of love: giving away of one’s self, one’s goods, one’s very life. Jesus points out that to love him means to keep his commandments (John 14:15). When we obey, we give to Jesus the honor of Lordship, acknowledging that he knows even better than we do what is best for us.
It’s better to be left in the dark with him than to have a torch come in between.
As I pray and watch the day slowly overtake the night, I know this is a lesson I need to learn. What “torches” am I lighting, rather than trusting him?
Lord, you have allowed a time of darkness to come on this world. In the gloom, help us to trust in you and not fill it with the home-made light of our own plans and distractions. Show us our torches, Father!
Reader: What torch are you tempted to light? Tell me about it.